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Text Message Interventions Were Effective in Beacon Communities

December 20, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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Researchers at the University of Michigan say that text messages can help decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes, using data from the txt4health pilots done with the Southeast Michigan and Greater Cincinnati Beacon Communities.

The researchers surveyed people who enrolled in the customized texting service, which relayed targeted, detailed information on diabetes prevention to underserved communities. A majority of those who were surveyed said the free mobile education program made them more aware of their diabetes risk and more likely to make diet-related behavior changes and lose weight. The study did not include those from the Crescent City (New Orleans) Beacon Community, which also participated in txt4health.

The one caveat is that the program worked well for those who completed it, but only 39 percent stuck through all 14 weeks. The research appears in two new studies published online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research today. Similar research from researchers at Duke University backed up this text message premise.

"We found that this method of health intervention had potential to significantly influence people's health habits and have great reach – however, sustained participant engagement across the 14 weeks was lower than desired," stated lead author of both studies Lorraine R. Buis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the U-M Medical School.

Participants said they were more likely to replace sugary drinks with water (78 percent), have a piece of fresh fruit instead of dessert (74 percent), substitute a small salad for chips or fries when dining out (76 percent), buy healthier foods when grocery shopping (80 percent), and eat more grilled, baked, or broiled foods instead of fried (76 percent).

The majority of survey respondents said the text messages were easy to understand (100 percent), that the program made them knowledgeable of their risk for developing type 2 diabetes (88 percent) and more aware of their dietary and physical activity habits (89 percent).

As Mike Samet, public information officer of Hamilton County Public Health and the man who operated the Greater Cincinnati’s version of Txt4Health, said in an HCI feature, these programs are typically targeted at underserved populations.

“It was a wide-open program in that anyone could participate, but we tried to concentrate on underserved communities because their propensity for diabetes is higher,” Samet explained. “Also, that population often finds itself outside of traditional healthcare opportunities. Plus, because it was free, it seemed ideal for that group.”

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